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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Guest Authors at my Kids' School

So at my kids' elementary school, they have authors come in for talks.

Seems like this happens about once a year. It's great for the kids because they get to meet the people behind the books. And I'd be boosting this even if I wasn't an author. It's important to learn that products don't come out of thin air -- it takes hard work, research, patience, and teamwork. It's like going to a farm to understand where their food comes from -- it doesn't just appear in the grocery store. That we eat other living things and that's okay -- that's the food chain.

It's good for the authors too because they get to promote their books. And it's always a delight to meet your audience. I know if I had a traditionally published book, I'd be trying to contact schools. Yes, I want love and attention. Why do you think I'm trying to be a capital-A author?

But sometimes the ones who get to speak aren't always... well, they misrepresent what an author is. Last year, they got to meet David LaRochelle. He talked to my eldest's third grade class (which is a bit unusual because he's a picture book writer. Aren't you into chapter books by this time?) I actually have one of his books in my Kindle. And although he's not on my radar, it's still cool to see the connection to "angels singing choir, golden light, floating on a pedestal PUBLISHED book" and the mere mortal who composed it.

But then the year before that was an author of a self-published series of books about otters. Self-published. That means he didn't go through the vetting process. He didn't work with an editor. He didn't have to submit query letters. He didn't do anything that I'm trying to do. I'm not saying he cheated the system -- I've self-published myself. But I don't think this is the person to present as a real author.

Whoa there, buddy. Let's not paint stripes on a donkey and call it a zebra.

But the teachers neglect to mention that when the speaker comes in. It's like saying you're a professional chef because you sold your crumpets at a bake sale.

This bothers me because it gives kids A) the wrong impression about what it means to be an author and B) does not focus on one of the key aspects of growing up. That you can put in the hard work, the sacrifice, make no mistakes, and still lose. That is life. Now maybe that's NOT what should be told to kids. (I'm pretty sure I would leave out the fact that it's a 98% rejection rate on a good day). But you can at least leave a moral that this stuff doesn't just get handed to you.
The self-published author doesn't truly know how a manuscript becomes a book. I know that because I don't yet know how a manuscript becomes a book. Not yet, not truly. And if they do, they can't admit that's how they got their book published or it takes away all credibility. They can talk about challenges, but never about conflicts between you and the editor/agent/copywriter/cover maker/promoter/marketer/drunk bookstore owner/anyone else involved in the industry.

Problem is, the kids don't have enough experience to challenge these claims. That's the whole point of school -- to educate the base stuff so you can think critically later. If you misrepresent a job, you leave a lasting effect on them. One that may not be the values you wish to impart. And no amount of royalty change from your Amazon KDP bookshelf can repair that.

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Problem With Okja

Here's some more "I'm old and all you young people are wrong" blog posts that I know everyone loves.

Aw, look at the widdle girl with her pwecious walking sandwich
I'd been looking forward to Okja since it was announced. Netflix produced, made by the same guy as "The Host" who blended comedy and horror into emotion, and plus I'm a sucker for "A boy and his X" stories ever since E.T. (Other formative favorites include Short Circuit, Flight of the Navigator, Homeward Bound, The Neverending Story, Norby, The Enormous Egg, Charlotte's Web, I even had "A Boy and His Blob" on NES.)

But there's also the message of small-town farmer against Mirando, the big mega-corporation that wants use these cute widdle animals for food and resources. Apparently that's murder if the animal has a name. I hate movies like this that paint the businesses as "evil" and this is a particularly egregious example.

So in the movie, Mirando claims they "discovered" a "superpig" in some remote village. This animal could wipe out world hunger, but first they took twenty-five of its babies to various farms around the world for them to raise and "introduce to the world". It's a silly premise -- why would a corporation "get" a newly discovered animal. Given there's only one, it would be considered endangered and swamped by zoologists. But it turns out this is all a PR stunt because the animal was in fact genetically engineered in a lab, probably like the Jurassic Park dinosaurs. And this is all to get the public "used to" the animal.

Okay, so first thing -- you don't need to convince me. I say bring on the GMOs. I have no problem. EVERY animal is a product of genetic engineering. Cows, dogs, horses, pigs, they've all been bred selectively over centuries to get the biggest and best. Seedless oranges are a mutation. Nature should have wiped them out, but we kept them going. The very experiment that founded gene study used genetic engineering (Mendel's pea plants). So I say, bring it on. I would definitely eat vat-grown meat. I eat beef sticks, summer sausage. Those aren't too far off.

The "superpig" is designed to breed like rabbits, fatten like seals, and poop like deer. It's more cower than cows, more piggy than pigs. I'm guessing it must be fiscally efficient to raise too, since a family of two can ranch it in the Korean mountains. It's not even that the movie says it's wrong to create animals to be killed, it's dropping the anvil on ALL meat-eaters, doing the old "pink slime in the factory" routine. Ooh, animals shouldn't be kept in cages, shouldn't be given hormones. I do not give a fuck how it got to my table. It's a resource, it's non-intelligent. If you want to pump it full of morphine to make its life more bearable, fine, but that means your shoes are going to cost more. They're animals. Humanity doesn't apply because they aren't human.

I think, in the context of the story, they're creating a lie because they don't think people will react well to an animal that was created in a lab rather than naturally evolved. I can't speak for the rest of the world, but I say it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make (which is to say, it's no sacrifice because humans have been doing it for millennia). Especially because... (moving to the second point)

THIS THING WIPES OUT WORLD HUNGER. The corporation made it for that reason. What business does that? What business dedicates itself to such a noble, world-saving cause? Tilda Swinton is following the path of Bill Gates and Elon Musk. And some little Korean kid is going to stop it? Fuck her. I don't care that you fell in love with your cuddly hippo-pig. There are bigger things at stake here. About 780 million things.

Third point: Hey, kid, this is not your pig. Maybe you spent all that time raising it and playing with it like Horton Hatching an Egg, but I have no doubt that you signed a contract (or your grandfather did, since you're a minor and not allowed to legally own property yet, so it's not even really yours in two ways, but I'm digressing). And that contract says "we pay you to raise the pig for ten years, then we take it back". This is established at the beginning of the movie, so I'm not conjecturing here.

This is not like adoption. This is an animal. It's property. It's owned. Not just that it was born under the care of someone else, it was CREATED by someone else. You don't even own the license to Okja. You don't get to dictate whether or not they "get to" take it back just because you developed feelings. This company can do what they want with THEIR pig. And they want to stop people from starving. So step back. 

Also, Jake Gyllenhaal is in this movie. He plays Gay Alcoholic Jack Hanna.

Last, even if it wasn't a world-saving pig, I hate movies that paint evil business against the little blue collar kid. Mirando is doing what it's supposed to be doing -- making money. It's not evading taxes or exploiting poverty-stricken black folk. It's making a legitimate product to sell.

Businesses gotta make money. It takes money, people, and time to make product. You might argue against "big pharma" drugs costing a lot, but it's more than just the pill -- it's the research, the employees, the logistics, the commissioned studies, passing the FDA tests and following the government rules that keep the drugs safe and stop snake oil from selling. This country went from AIDS being a death sentence to a disease you can live with. And who did that? Drug companies.

NOTE! that this does not excuse people like Martin Shkreli or EpiPen, who raised prices on their products with no justification. In those cases, the products had already been priced, then raised it like protection money. That's a different scenario and a most evil one.

I think I'll name him Stampy.

I'm not saying big business gets a bad rap or is really an angel in disguise. But they have a mission and it's not personal. It's not always pretty and it's not always kind. But in Okja, CEOs are labeled as "fucking psychopaths", portrayed as the flamboyant Capitol zealots in The Hunger Games, just for doing their job -- getting people food to eat.

I found the solution -- combine the director's two movies

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Author Interview at A Blue Million Books

Go check out the latest post at A Blue Million Books. It's a neat "love it or leave it" style of "what do you love/what do you hate" that I haven't seen before. Plus it has my nifty cover on it. 

The Books I Read: May - June 2017

The Book of Goodnight Stories by Vratislav Stovicek 
I got this book a long time ago because I had it as a kid and I wanted my kids to have it. There are 365 stories, one for each day of the year, although a lot of them are multi-parters, and each day is only about 250 words.

I have fond memories of this book, but on the re-read, it started becoming hard to get through. The stories I remember as a nine-year-old weren't as full of whimsy and wonder. The tales weren't diverse and magical. They started getting samey (right around August, I believe) and it's not as much a compendium of fairy tales as I thought. Some are downright strange. There are no paragraph breaks and little dialogue. I wonder if I returned to my nine-year-old self, reading this volume for the first time, I'd feel the same way. I don't know the answer to that, but I do understand now why my kids haven't cracked it open.

Astonishing X-Men, Volumes 1 & 2 by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
Comic books. Is there anything they can't do? Joss Whedon's applies humor and heart-wrench, the same as any other work, to another group of motley misfits with superpowers and lack of understanding. And it works. It works so well. You don't have to know more than a periphery of X-Men lore, but it helps. There's past history--like where Colossus is and Emma Frost's backstory--that's hard to understand if you only know the MCU. But that's why fan wikis are around. All the Whedon wit and charm is there. It feels like the best Buffy episodes.

Every panel of art is beautiful and makes you think, whatever John Cassady was paid, it wasn't enough. At times I felt like I wasn't paying enough attention to the panels so I was sacrireligizing the work. Some of them look like they should be wallpapers. However it does suffer from a common sickness of "too much content" in an image to tell what's going on and too many spreads.

The writing is not all it's cracked up to be. I always wonder how much the studio dictates and how much the writer does. I always imagine the studio's saying "you gotta refer to this, this, and this that happened fifty issues ago" and "you gotta bring your characters to this point by issue 25 because that's when we have our big crossover tie-in" and "Wolverine's getting a six-issue run with some new title we're trying to promote so don't write anything with the most popular and interesting character for six months." There are plot threads that cease developing, like a mutant cure, and the Breakworld aliens.

Nonetheless, this run is beautiful. It's all beautiful.

A Street Cat Named Bob: How One Man and His Cat Found Hope on the Streets by James Bowen

I discovered this book when the trailer for the movie came out. I love cats, but you rarely see them in movies -- they're difficult to train. And if you do see them, with terrible CG. But then I discovered it was based on a book.

When I was in middle school, I went through a phase where I read every book, fiction or non-fiction, about cats that my library had. The Cat Who Came For Christmas, A Cat Named Norton, The Tiger on my Couch (cat psychology), books by Lilian Jackson Braun. As such, I expected much the same thing. Except this had something a little different--the cat was "owned" by a homeless heroin addict. Well, as it turns out he's not so homeless, and doesn't really "own" the cat. But he is a busker and has to deal with making his living around that sort.

I didn't expect much from the writing style, given the protagonist's background, but he actually pulled off something eloquent and interesting. I've mentioned in reviews of a few past memoirs how the author hasn't lived long enough or interesting enough to fill out a complete book. This one has. And it's nice to see that same kind of masculinity exhibited by Newt Scamander in real life. It's cozy and it's heartwarming without being schmaltzy. And it feels like a real-life "a boy and his X" story.

Kingdom Keepers I: Disney After Dark by Ridley Pearson

I barely finished this one. Thirty-three percent through and I was speed-reading just to get to the end. I really should have just stopped, but the idea sounded too good not to follow through, like Kingdom Hearts. But it's not worth your time.

The concept is ideal for any Disneyphile-evil lurks in the park and five kids have to stop it, going on rides after close and exploring cast member tunnels and doing all the things you're not allowed to do. Walt Disney World goes from a place of joy to a battleground. Anyone who's been to a Disney Park at least once should be intrigued.

But you shouldn't. It's so poorly executed and poorly written. Like it was a rush job. The characters have no depth. They don't even get the depth of stereotypes. No one has a personality. I could not tell you the difference between the two girls of this five person team. And they're barely in the book as it is. Anyone who's not the "team leader" gets barely any screen time. The two other boys are "the big guy" and "the computer guy" but "the big guy" occasionally feeds information about computers and "the computer guy" acts weak and nerdy. No one has internal goals or distinguishing characteristics. Power Rangers had better characterization.

The story is all event. And they throw in some BS about how these kids are "holographic cast members" and that gives them the ability to be in the park after it closes. This is a thing that doesn't exist in the park, and I had to try explaining to my kids five times. It's rooted in science but acts like magic and has no rules around it. It just happens. Once they're in the park, they have to do some lame The Da Vinci Code style sleuthing, because Walt Disney knew that his movies were going to come to life and imprison the guests in dungeons down below. That's a sentence I just said. This fetch quest accomplishes its job of filling out pages by making every obstacle the same--you get on a ride, the ride malfunctions, but you succeed anyway without any lasting consequences. Goalposts are never pushed back.

Kids deserve better than this. The only highlight is seeing the things you saw in Disney World, and only in the "hey I remember that" way.

This is no Percy Jackson or Wimpy Kid. I did not care whether the characters lived or died. And there were too many of them anyway. In addition to the Team of Five, there are two girls with ambiguous motives but the same non-personality, an Imagineer mentor, and "the adults who know nothing". The author can explain the Utilidor under the park, but not why these kids matrix-jump into their holograms when they fall asleep nor how that works. That's like Benedict Cumberbatch doing the mocap for Smaug, then going to sleep and finding himself IN the film. It feels like the author was writing to a deadline or to the specifications of investors and focus groups. Pick up a Travel Guide instead.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

It's a long one, but it's good enough that you don't tap your foot. After reading this I now have better knowledge and understanding of the New Testament. Furthermore, despite being an atheist, this book brought me closer to embracing becoming a Christian and identifying Jesus Christ as a philosopher to follow. It'll never happen, but it got me closer.

Since there's nothing in the bible about Jesus between when he's born and when he's the prophet, this book helpfully fills in the gaps. And it's all from the perspective of Biff. They start from the beginning when the two boys meet, as Jesus (called Joshua in the book) is doing a trick for his younger siblings of killing a lizard, then putting it in his mouth to resurrect it (he's only four or so). The nice thing about this scene is that it's a gatekeeper for any fundamentalist who can't take a joke. And that's important because, well, look what I said in the first paragraph.

The book leads us all the way around Roman-occupied Jerusalem, and keeps (as far as I can tell) historically accurate. Although that's hard because cultural records from that era are spotty at best. But there's never a dumbing down or overly-smartening the text. It's a fine adventure, fine to read, and has diverse characters. Characters whom you care what happens to them. It's the story of Jesus accepting his position as the son of God, but not getting the answers on what to do with it. So he goes on a journey to find those answers, and meets the three wise men who sought his birth. It's from these people he learns the blend of Western and Eastern philosophy he uses to become the orator we all know and love.

So yes, even though it's long, it's worth your time. Especially if you need something non-heavy that's not a romance or mystery.

Tender Wings of Desire by Colonel Sanders

Needs more chicken.

Okay, so this is a free novella put out by KFC for Mother's Day, as a "thank you" to all the hard-working moms who bring dinner home in a bucket sometimes. This must have been the most bizarre bit of marketing that didn't involve goat sacrifice or racist tweets.

The problem is, this book is played straight. It's a basic Victorian regency story about a high-class woman conscripted to marry. She runs away from her English mansion and becomes a waitress in a pub, working for a tough-talking but heart-of-gold barmaid. She falls in love with one of the patrons, a sailor. But the cover is Colonel Sanders embracing a suburban mom holding a fried chicken leg. So you can understand my confusion. I mean, it's CALLED "Tender Wings" and there's not even so much as a drummie within. I think it takes place before fried chicken was invented, if that's irony for you.

I was expecting something more tongue-in-cheek, something with more humor. Because come on, the whole concept is ridiculous. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it just turns out that the beau she falls in love with is named "Harland Sanders", and we only learn that through a letter calling him back to America for his "chicken empire"? I guess it's too subtle for me.

But it's competently written. More than I expected for a free eBook coming from one of the lesser fast food chains (seriously, I haven't seen a KFC around my parts for years. The nearest one is twenty miles from my house). I have fond memories of KFC -- my mom WAS the person bringing it home for dinner on nights she couldn't cook (although she didn't read bodice rippers). So, just like the food this place delivers, my expectations were met.

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart

Hannah Hart should not exist.

Her presence in the world defies natural order to things. Because there is no way a woman from this background--a background of foster families, drugs, mental illness, international fame, fundamentalist parents, schizophrenic parents, self-harm, social services, and such and so forth--becomes as positive and optimistic and a generational leader as she does. There's no universe where that computes.

Like I've mentioned before, I get apprehensive around memoirs by people under thirty years old. You never really know if their life is interesting enough for a whole book. But I had no doubts about Hannah Hart.

I watched Hannah in her early days. She only ever released little tidbits about her life in her videos. She was attracted to Scarlett Johanssen in one, that she was emancipated from her parents in another. It set up a bizarre puzzle for viewers. But little did I know this was no five hundred piecer. This was a two-thousand. With no border. And it's all Persian cat faces.

This book answers the questions of that mystery. But there's so much to unpack that you never truly understand it all (which is the sign of a good book). None of the terror that must have been present in Hannah Hart's life comes through in her videos. So how can she function as a human being?

As far as the book itself, her talent extends to the written word. It's full of wit and humor, but also pathos and drama. There is sufficient ups and downs that it's never tonally consistent. But that's a good thing, because the palate is always cleansed and the meal never takes too long to cook. Hannah goes from talking about being homeless to how to be a good traveler. It'll leave an impression on you.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson 

I'm just not in a place to be reading non-fiction history books right now. Let alone history books that are doorstops. Like I've said before, my writing has suffered in the last year because I'm not reading books that excite me and inspire me to write. I need to read books in my own genre and this is not one of them. Just how much detail does this book need? Do I need to know every little particular? Do I need to know what the captain ate for breakfast? Was that part of the u-boat attack?

Maybe there is a story behind the Lusitania but I'm not sure it needs to be this many pages. I was hoping for something like Unbroken but there isn't a main character to hang a hat on. It feels very much like the author is spitting back research, not creating a narrative.

Unsoul'd by Barry Lyga

The main character is SUPER unlikable. He's a douchebag that fucks multiple women, is vulgar, lazy, does stupid adult things. There's a lot of sex, to the point of being porn-like. And the things he does don't justify the ending.There's an underlying technique of "is this actually all in his mind?" that distracts from the text.

The central idea is "what if a down-on-his-luck author actually did make a deal with the devil for a bestselling book". The problem is that this is a character book. And the kind of character who would make this deal is a douchebag. Like if Stephen King drank a Jekyll-and-Hyde potion and all we saw was Hyde. Sad to say, Barry Lyga is no longer one of my favorite authors. I probably wouldn't have finished it if it hadn't been so short.

Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

I sought this book to learn more about the monomyth and a "formula" for a winning story. This book has that, but it's important to be a filter and not a sponge when reading it.

I heard of this book from an Imgur post when Blake Snyder died. It laid out the steps of every top-grossing Hollywood movie. (This poster applied it to Frozen.) I'm always up for anything that makes writing easier so I kept it favorited until I had a chance to really break it down.

But there's more to this book than just "the formula". It's also making sure that you have everything needed to sell a script. Like log lines, a catchy title, and things that don't matter so much in the book-writing world.

And the biggest reason you need to be a filter is that this guy makes claims that he's made hundreds of thousands in residuals, been in the industry long enough to know the keys failures and successes, like he's Ron Popeil selling a juicemaster. He's been called "Hollywood's most successful spec screenwriter". The problem? Check out this guy's IMDb page. His claim to fame is Blank Check which was harshly lampooned by The Nostalgia Critic. Second place? Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Occasionally he uses, as examples, older movies and movies I've never heard of. I would think if you want to be successful, you want to keep your case studies as current and outstanding as possible.

So this makes you think "why should we listen?" The answer is because, sometimes, people are better at teaching than doing. And while there are flaws in the technique, the content is solid. Well, I don't know if it works or not, but if you're wise, there's things inside that I believe can help you with writing.

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff 

I reached 63% before I decided to stop. Many times in the past, I would have told myself to keep going just to finish it. But that was the old me. Each time I picked it up, I'd sigh and look at how much more I had to go.

The anthology format doesn't work for me. It usually doesn't. The racism part is what intrigued me. I heard about this book from Scalzi's big idea, and the excerpt hooked me in. Lovecraft monsters + the soft racism of Driving Miss Daisy. I love that genre-mixing. But if you came to this looking for Cthulhu, you'll be disappointed. There is little horror and the social commentary becomes its own character, overshadowing the already shadow-thin cast therein.

They aren't interesting enough for me to want to continue. True, they have more depth than just "they're black", but I also couldn't care whether they lived or died. Maybe it's because of the format. Each story focuses on a different person in this family that's connected to another family of cultists. None of them are distinct or sympathetic enough. The writing style is blah too. Descriptions of physical environments are mechanical and go on too long. The author describes each step a character takes instead of summarizing it.

The big idea is great. It just needed to be executed better. Needed some condensing or editing to give more pressure per square word. But I look forward to seeing Jordan Peele's take on it.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Fantastic. Beautiful. It reminds me of Wren's Quest by Sherwood Smith, one of my formative books. It's what I wish Diana Wynne Jones had written like. My only quibble is that the style is functional to the extreme. You won't find any beauty of prose here. But in my opinion, that's a good problem to have. It keeps tension high and still uses vocabulary to keep you in a world (like "sparrowgrass" for asparagus).

It's a version of Shrek for the intellectual. Less in-your-face and fart joke-laden. More for those who've read original versions and appreciates guilty pleasures. People who like "Into the Woods". Plus all the characters are likable. The most negative part is the predictable ending. Not that you know what's going to happen (you do), but you're bored waiting for it to play out.

But I gave it five stars. However, those looking for twee elfin phrases will be disappointed.

Monday, July 10, 2017

My Kindertrauma: Ghoulies

When I was little, there was a video store not too far from our house. I can't remember what it was called. Mr. Movies? Video Update? I know it wasn't a Blockbuster because the color scheme was red and white. Anyway, as those who grew up among VHS knows, the place was like an art museum. It wasn't bad enough to have enough selection to give a nine-year-old option paralysis or sucker him into picking "My Pet Monster". But they had to make every rectangle a beautiful magical portal to another world, each more enticing than the next. And no section had more intrigue than the Horror section.

I mean, that's what they were meant to do -- appeal to the visceral primal nature of fear and evil. Those pictures inflamed my senses with images of deformity, darkness, evil, bare shoulders, shiny knives, thick blood, bulging eyeballs, and rotting skulls. What was in that basket in "Basket Case"? Why did that face look so skewed? How did the Critters go from a needle-toothed fuzzy animal in the first movie to some amorphous multi-faced ball in the second? What was in that baby carriage? Why was that toy monkey so angry? Why was Santa carrying an axe down that chimney? What possessed someone to stab that shoe?

But for some reason the Ghoulies cover struck me hardest. As when you are a little kid, silly stuff scares you. Mostly stuff that involves the disappearance/disposal of things and not knowing where those things go. This may also explain my fear of escalators and bath drains.

And toilets belong to that category. I don't remember being afraid of toilets. But they were definitely mysterious, for two reasons. One, it involves poop, which is bizarre in the first place ("I make this from my body, but it smells bad, and I want to leave it behind") and 2) the toilet sucks it down and makes it disappear ("Where does it go?"). And then there's the big question that any decent scientist proposes: if it brings stuff down, can anything come back up?

Enter Ghoulies. I wonder how much time I've wasted staring at this cover. I was a big fan of Gremlins -- I don't remember a time I hadn't seen that movie -- so this seemed like a page from the same book.

But these weren't cute fuzzy mogwais with bizarre life rules. This was a slimy, skull-like baby-thing. And it was climbing out of the swirling portal of mystery, where things fall into the black hole of mystery and they don't come back out. They're not meant to come back out.

But what if something did. OoOoOoOoOoOoOo.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Philando Castile Verdict

When I saw it I was like, well that's going to fucking haunt me for a while.

This cop was scared, but something inside him wanted to pull out his gun. Because when a guy says "I have a weapon on me" he's saying it because he's not going to shoot you. If he was going to shoot, he wouldn't have said anything. Even the dumbest criminal knows about the element of surprise. It's built into our nature right down to the sponges and amoebas. If you don't show your teeth, passerby shrimp are going to think you're a rock. So I mean, just apply an ounce of reason to this.

But that's not what this guy did, he had no logic and all emotion. And it was all yang. All dark emotions like fear and hate and disgust. Castile didn't even get to finish his sentence before he was shot. And that's what scares me. Because usually, when you think of killers, we think of of big stoic sociopaths. Ones that don't care at all. Ones that lack humanity or empathy, who see humans as little better than worms. These are the guys in the horror movies like Jason and Michael Myers. If you want to go real life, consider Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer and the BTK killer.

When I have to do bad shit or get in a situation that's high stakes emotional, I don't succumb to impulse. In fact, I go the opposite. My castle fortifies. It builds up bigger walls. It doesn't let anything in. And anything that wants to have business with me needs to consult the extremely disciplined matter-of-fact man at the gates. In other words, I shut down. I'm not saying I become inactive. But I become more like Jason. All power to observance and goal, little to emotion.

That's the opposite of this guy, Jeromino Yanez. This is the kind of guy who hits his wife and then becomes emotional and crying and says "why did you make me do that?" He didn't think, he reacted. He jumped. And people who are jumpy jump. Is that why cops are like this? Because they're so fucking scared all the time they PTSD jump at any slightest threat, even if it's not there? If you want to become a cop, it's not because you're a coward. And this guy was a coward.

I probably wouldn't be paying so much attention to this if it wasn't A) right there B) I used to live right around that area. Falcon Heights. Yeah, I'm one of those assholes who says "that's terrible, but at least it doesn't happen in my city. My blue state city of enlightened people." It literally happened four blocks from where I used to live.

As a single-digit aged boy, I remember distinctly seeing the city sign that said "Falcon Heights" whenever we went to get McDonald's or rent a movie or go to swimming lessons. A little bit down the street is where Dad introduced me to gyros at Dino's. Near that is the Pizza Hut where my fifth grade teacher took me (and other students) for lunch as a prize for completing a project. It used to be a Shakey's Pizza, where I had my fifth birthday party.

It's not a spectacular area, but it was home. And to think of something so heinous and evil happening in my territory fills me with disgust. The only consolation is that Yanez will likely be a pariah for the rest of his life. I didn't have this feeling until the acquittal because, like Trevor Noah said, I though the judicial system would mete out proper justice.

I was wrong. And it's no longer enough to have faith in the system. The system must be controlled.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Eating My Words on Wonder Woman

Oh look at all these words. Oh... yum... gulp... so delicious... so meaty. So good... so good to eat... so scrumptious... I've never eaten words as good as this before. This is delicious. Scrumpf... glomp... chew... oh so good... so satisfying... filling...can't get enough...

So in 2012, I wrote a blog about how we'd never see a Wonder Woman movie, or at least a good one. Let's take a look at some of the points I made and why I was wrong.

" make Wonder Woman translate to today's audiences, you would have to alter her so radically that she wouldn't resemble Wonder Woman anymore. ... Someone's going to leave unhappy -- either the fanboys or the casuals." 

Well, what I didn't count on was that the movie was going to make someone else happy -- women. Not just geek women or romcom women or intellectual women. Just... women. They kept the character... mm, I hate to say it but "generic" enough so that everyone could project on to her. One tweet said "Is this why men watch superhero movies? Because I feel like taking on an army after seeing Wonder Woman."

And why wouldn't you be excited? How nice would it be to not be afraid of men? Someone who didn't have to hold her keys in her fist walking through the parking lot, who doesn't have some bald man staring at her on the subway, who can sit in a bar without some drunk stranger telling her to "smile more". Wonder Woman doesn't let anyone shut her down or interrupt her.

This is the flaw in DC movies -- they try too hard to please everyone and rely too much on focus groups. Hence the movies are bland and messy and deviate too much from source characters (e.g. Suicide Squad, Man of Steel, Superman v. Batman). As a result, the movies have no flavor. They're bland. As colorless as... as... well, as a DC movie (come on guys, you gotta do color correction!) Wonder Woman is not an exception. It's as gray as a warfare first person shooter. But it did the best it could. And one hopes that the Justice League, which has some characters who aren't so grimdark (Aquaman, Flash), will pick up that slack too.

But my point is, they didn't radically change Wonder Woman. In fact, they didn't make much of her at all. Didn't take any risks. Didn't add any flavor. They didn't change a McDonald's hamburger recipe. She was built for a task, she goes out to fulfill that task. No dead cancer mother or alcoholism or past life as a criminal. She doesn't have any flaws (being naive doesn't count) that make her broken. In fact, her role is to nurture the broken -- the Irish guy with PTSD and the Blackfoot exiled from his tribe. If Captain America is the father-figure of the Avengers, Wonder Woman is the mama lion of the Justice League.

"Wonder Woman is intrinsically bonded to its creators predilections towards bondage and female dominance. Wonder Woman is frequently shown either tying up criminals or being tied up."

I had trouble separating the comic book from the character. For one thing, I think I wrote this around peak "but the comics were better" fanboyism. This was when The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man came out. Everyone else (I'm looking at you DC and Sony) screwed it up because they deviated too much from the source material. Batman couldn't live up to The Dark Knight, and Spider-Man was receiving a too-soon reboot. Marvel planted its flag with The Avengers, but it still failed the Bechdel Test.

See up to this point, comic book movies always keeping women as sidekicks -- Captain America: The Winter Soldier had Black Widow, Guardians of the Galaxy has Gamora, Thor has Jane, Iron Man has Pepper Potts. And being sidekicks, these women had little definition. Black Widow is "the spy". Gamora is the "warrior-princess". Pepper Potts is the sassy secretary. These are not characters, they're archetypes. When you make a main character that main character has to be "broken" in some way. And if you make a woman broken, you get flak saying "how dare you represent all women as [this condition]".

Wonder Woman fights no criminals, pursues no bad guys. The movie is about World War I and takes a few pages from Apocalypse Now, traveling from the bureaucratic offices to the front lines. But where that storyline became darker and darker, Wonder Woman gives hope. Hope that, with courage and friends, you can take on anyone.

The concept of binding or being bound within the film is removed completely. There are no games and no ropeplay. Wonder Woman herself is never bound (in the comics, that's her one weakness, so it's surprising that doesn't make it in). Moulston might not approve of the film, but he's not here. And the world's moved past that kind of Wonder Woman. Yes, it does stray from her original spirit, but it changes her character for the better.

"How would you even start the story?"

They did it the best way -- simply. They left only the basics. Not too many characters get shoved into foreground because once Diana leaves the island, we never see them again. We stay on Wonder Woman the whole time. Even when we have to deviate with some backstory narration, it takes the form of her bedtime story.

"The problem is there's a stigma around Amazons."

The right way
The wrong way
I worried that characters would become "entitled, bitchy woman with more masculinity than femininity who can't form social relationships". The concept is that this secret island holds Zeus's ripping cool army just in case he ever needs it again. This avoids turning into a land of man-haters (because they've worked with men in the past). It also helps that the set and costume design comes from women. They knew how to make feminine warriors without being booblicious.

As far as Diana's concerned, there's a little of the "born sexy yesterday" trope. But her character's development is more about the transition from classic-style honor-fighting to modern warfare. But she still likes babies and ice cream. She doesn't have the mind of a child so she can hold a conversation without sounding like Sally from 3rd Rock From the Sun (not that I don't hold respect for that character, but she was played for laughs). I saw a bit of Bones in her, but not in a disdainful way.

"The first thing you'd have to do is totally revamp the costume." 

They did, but not very much. For one thing, you don't see the costume until her iconic charge out of the trench. Until then, it's cloaks and robes. After the big reveal, you can see they kept the color scheme, but made it grayed out metal.

There's no explanation for WHY she's wearing it, and that bothers me. In the plot, she stole some armor from the Themyscira vaults, but it has no context, nor explanation why it looks different than everyone else's. But this movie's made me pay more attention to the beauty of the outfits than all movies I've seen in the past thirty-six years (I'm 36) combined. They even manage to have a costume montage in the middle. But its more about where she can store her sword, not what's tantalizing.

Still the best dressing montage there is.

"The biggest problem with Wonder Woman is that her weapons and tools just don't make sense. ... First, [the lasso of truth is] not a very exciting power. Second, it becomes a deus ex machina."

There is actually surprisingly little of Wonder Woman wielding her signature weapon. She uses the sword, shield, and bracelets more. The few times she does use it is either for interrogation (and he is barely tied up) or as a whip. The plot doesn't demand that she use it either. At the time, I was thinking of plots like The Winter Soldier or Iron Man 3 that are full of deception and intrigue. But more to the point, she IS the weapon. She's personified defense and offense, not strategy or intelligence (in the spy sense) or moral relativism or power through any means other than selflessness. Also, no silly invisible plane.

"[G]olden bracelets that can stop bullets. ... They only things they could block are tiny cocktail swords. ... [Y]our wrist bones would shatter as soon as a bullet hit."

The bracelets are glossed over in the plot. I believe in the comics they're formed of the shield of Aegis, which is like DC-adamantium. But she does use them and somehow has the reflexes to stop an incoming bullet. Is that explained? No. Her powers are kept ambiguous, which is a disadvantage because it makes her overpowered. They don't even explain why she doesn't age. I wouldn't be surprised if some audience members thought her "god killer" power was the bracelets instead of within herself.

"[F]our words: aim for the legs. The well-exposed legs."

This still stands, but it's a problem among many movies. It happens several times to Captain America and no one bats an eye, so I guess we're all agreeing to ignore it? Rule of cool?

"Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman had the screwed-up relationship of "I Dream of Jeannie". Wonder Woman's got all this power and ability, yet she feels incomplete without him."

In this movie, Wonder Woman absolutely does not NEED Steve Trevor. Well, she does NEED him, in the sense that he's her liaison into the world of men. But if she got a map to the front or some notes on how British government works, she'd be fine on her own. This is probably the biggest deviation from the comics, but also the most welcome. And it would have been the easiest pit to fall into.

Diana does not have a romance with Steve and Steve doesn't treat Diana as anything but a peer. A fellow soldier and a means to an end. They both want to end the war. Steve doesn't necessarily believe in this Ares nonsense, but he's seen her take on a boat full of Nazis, so he's got the proof and the pudding.

"Etta Candy? Who is she supposed to be? Comic relief? Is she like the Theodore of this triumvirate?"

Etta Candy is a pleasant cameo, but little more. She's really the only other woman in the cast who's not a Themysciran action figure. And they give her dignity. She's not food-obsessed or man-obsessed. They did her right by not giving her a stereotype or archetype. She doesn't have a "thing", unless you count being delightfully British.

"[T]he biggest problem with the supporting characters is that Wonder Woman has no memorable villains."

I think this still stands. I could see the Ares thing a mile a way and General Thunderbolt is just another Red Skull/Bane/Popeye pastiche taking Super Serum (don't you know you never get high off your own stash?) The same thing happens in the first Thor, the first Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and the first Spider-Man. But it does avoid the "designated girl fight" and doesn't go on too long. Dr. Poison was the most interesting (I imagined her like Dr. Tenenbaum from Bioshock) and it's a shame she got such an uninteresting ending. But we got thrown cars and explosions, so how much can you complain about it?

Final thoughts: Yes, thumbs-up. I am bullish on Wonder Woman stock. I really hope this gets directors and producers to realize that yes, women-led movies, both in front and behind the camera, can make money. And even better, they make good art.